William Leavitt and Raul Guerrero first crossed paths in Los Angeles during the 1970s. Leavitt, a native of Washington D.C., graduated from Claremont Graduate Center in 1967 and Guerrero, born and raised just miles from the Mexican border in National City, completed his studies at Chouinard in 1970. Both artists were heirs to a generation of art makers who mined the regional environment in the formulation of their images. The artists share a willingness to forego pictorial logic in exchange for the disorienting quality of Surrealism in the tradition of Magritte. Additionally both came of age professionally when the banner of conceptual art sanctioned the use of multiple mediums within the artist’s practice. In this installation, the artists are represented in a more traditional two-dimensional mode: oil on canvas or linen, acrylic on paper. Scale, palette and content vary dramatically, but the feel of these precisely imagined, meticulously rendered almost classical ‘still life’ compositions speaks eloquently to the disquieting nature of the current moment.
William Leavitt has devoted the bulk of his fifty year career to deciphering the social indicators innate to the landscape and aesthetics of Southern California. From domestic interiors to decommissioned power stations to SoCal’s ubiquitous joshua trees, Leavitt captures the ache of a distinctly urban isolation in conversation with compelling natural beauty. In addition to the painting and drawing featured in this exhibition, Leavitt, a true artworld hybrid, is revered for his work as a draughtsman, designer, installation artist, sculptor, filmmaker and playwright. Though the artist has frequently utilized the innate theatricality of a gallery setting - “My early installations were like fragments of stage sets…sort of like sculptures where I used trees and lights and sound.” – in this exhibition Leavitt confines the nature of his experimentation to his images.
In these new works, chandeliers dangle from an imagined sky. Rivers flow through a backyard swimming pool. A small copper still interrupts a monolithic charcoal-skinned silhouette positioned atop a desert vista. Each image becomes a contradiction to the location suggested in the painting. Though none of this seems reasonable, the formality of the composition persuades. The artist’s depiction of light – irradiant suburban morning, midday desert sun or shadowed city evening - announces the truth of the scene’s existence. It is as if the artist has created a rendering of an active film set minus the physical distraction of actors. Leavitt’s implied narratives, powered by a divinely laissez faire visual sensibility, suggest that nothing is inevitable other than the viewer’s need to look and look and look again.
For the past five decades, Raul Guerrero has generated an extraordinarily eloquent variety of artwork inclusive of photography, installation, video, sculpture and most significantly, painting. Leavitt’s selections span a twenty-five year period, from 1994 through 2020. Each reflects Guerrero’s fever dream experience of growing up in a Eurocentric culture, biologically Mexican yet technically American. Utilizing a specific set of formal parameters and a free-wheeling technicolor palette, Guerrero conjures the contradictions of memory in present tense. Tlatilco figurines balance atop a French perfume bottle while an enigmatic stick figure – Madame X of the title – looks on. In a mythic desert panorama, the artist situates Constantin Brancusi’s ‘Sleeping Muse’ in the foreground alongside a trio of indigenous animal species. A cross-cultural mashup is articulated in the ‘close quarters’ of the four object/animals and in the bravura physicality of the paint application. In his forcefully rendered pop culture and fine art objects, Guerrero continues his revelatory examination of identity.
Raul Guerrero has exhibited nationally and internationally. Most recently at the Air de Paris Gallery in Paris France, New York’s Que Foundation and Galleria Ninapi in Ravenna Italy. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York ; the Phoenix Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art; Long Beach Museum of Art; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
William Leavitt was the subject of a retrospective curated by Anne Goldstein and Bennett Simpson at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2011. His work is included in numerous private and public collections including the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Orange County Museum of Art; San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art; and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. He has been the recipient of an NEA Fellowship, J. Paul Getty Fellowship, J. Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and a United States Artist Fellowship.